Pope Francis to meet children with autism at the Vatican

Pope_Francis_at_VargihnaRome, Italy — Pope Francis will be meeting children with autism as well as their parents in a conference that will be held at the Vatican starting today.

The conference, which is hosted by the Vatican’s health office, is reportedly one of the biggest conferences to be held on autism awareness, gathering around 650 autism experts from 37 different countries.

Monsignor Zygmunt Zimowski, the Vatican’s top health official, said that his office chose to hold the conference on autism in an effort to give hope to the children on the spectrum, as well as their families. Monsignor Zimowski told reporters that caring for individuals on the autism spectrum is caring for their families, too. The Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry President said:

“Autism spectrum disorders affect families, not just the person who has the illness.”

The conference on autism will be held Nov. 20-22, and will include talks on the many aspects of dealing with autism, including its medical, educational, and theological aspects. Over 700 participants from 57 countries have registered to attend the conference, which is themed “The Person with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Animating Hope”.

The Pope hopes to raise awareness for autism in his forthcoming meeting with the individuals on the spectrum and their families.

The council wishes to put an end to the stigma and the isolation of the children on the spectrum. According to Rev. Agusto Chendi of the Pontifical Council for Health Workers,

“[The conference aims to] help break the isolation, and in many cases the stigma, that surrounds people affected by autism spectrum disorders.”

Couples who have children on the spectrum need pastoral care, according to autism experts, as the emotional and financial stress that comes with dealing with their children’s disorder inevitably put their marriage at risk.

Pope Francis will be giving a speech at the conference which will be held at the Vatican’s audience hall this Saturday.

Contributed by Althea Estrella Violeta